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Common life is modeled on the early Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 14 December 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Regarding the essential aspects of consecrated life, after discussing the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience in the Decree Perfectae Caritatis, the Second Vatican Council speaks of life in common with reference to the example of the first Christian communities and in the light of the Gospel.

The Council's teaching on this point is very important, although it is true that a life in common, strictly understood, does not exist or is greatly reduced in some forms of consecrated life, such as the eremetic, while it is not necessarily required in secular institutes. However, it exists in the great majority of institutes of consecrated life and has always been considered by founders and by the Church as a basic observance for the good progress of religious life and the effective organization of the apostolate. As a confirmation of this, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life recently published a special document on Fraternal Life in Community (February 2, 1994).

2. If we look at the Gospel, it could be said that life in common is a response to Jesus' teaching on the connection between the two precepts of love of God and love of neighbor. In a state of life in which God is supremely loved, one cannot but strive to love one's neighbor with particular generosity, beginning with those who are closest because they belong to the same community. This is the state of life of consecrated persons.

Moreover, it is clear from the Gospel that Jesus' calls were addressed to individuals, but usually in order to invite them to join and to form a group. This was the case with the group of disciples and with that of the women.

The Gospel indicates the importance of fraternal charity as the soul of the community, and thus as an essential value of the common life. There is a reference to the disputes which took place on several occasions between the apostles themselves. In following Jesus, they did not cease to be men, children of their time and their people. They were anxious to establish ranks of greatness and authority. Jesus' response was a lesson in humility and willingness to serve (cf. Mt 18:3-4; 20:26-28, and par.). Then he gave them "his" commandment of mutual love according to his example (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12, 17). In the history of the Church, especially in that of religious institutes, the question of the relationship between individuals and groups has often been raised. It has no other valid answer than that of Christian humility and fraternal love, which unites in the name and power of Christ's love, as the ancient song of the "agapes" says over and over: Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor, the love of Christ has gathered us together.

Certainly, the practice of fraternal love in the common life requires considerable effort and sacrifice, and demands generosity no less than the practice of the evangelical counsels. Hence, joining a religious institute or community implies a serious commitment to living fraternal love in all its aspects.

3. An example of this is found in the first Christian community. They came together immediately after the ascension to pray in unity of heart (cf. Acts 1:14) and to persevere in fraternal "communion" (Acts 2:42), going so far as to share their possessions: "They shared all things in common" (Acts 2:44).

The unity desired by Christ found at the time of the Church's beginning a fulfillment worthy of being recorded: "The community of believers were of one heart and one mind" (Acts 4:32).

The Church has always retained a deep memory of and perhaps even a nostalgia for that early community. Basically, religious communities have always sought to produce that ideal of communion in charity as a practical rule of life in common. Their members, gathered by the love of Christ, live together because they intend to abide in this love. Thus they can witness to the Church's true countenance, which reflects her soul: charity.

"One heart and one mind" does not mean a rigid, featureless uniformity, but a deep communion in mutual understanding and reciprocal respect.

4. It cannot only be a matter, however, of a union of like-mindedness and human affection. Echoing the Acts of the Apostles, the Council speaks of a "sharing of the same spirit" (PC 15). It is a question of a unity that has its deepest root in the Holy Spirit, who pours out his love into hearts. He spurs different people to help one another on the path of perfection by creating and maintaining an atmosphere of good understanding and co-operation among themselves. As the guarantee of unity in the whole Church, the Holy Spirit establishes it and causes it to abide in an even more intense way in communities of consecrated life.

What are the ways of this charity infused by the Holy Spirit? The Council calls particular attention to mutual esteem (cf. PC 15). It applies to religious two of St. Paul's exhortations to Christians: "Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate each other in showing respect" (Rom 12:10), and "Help carry one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2).

Mutual esteem is an expression of mutual love, which is opposed to the widespread tendency to judge one's neighbor harshly and criticize him. Paul's exhortation urges us to discover other people's qualities and, as far as the poor human eye can tell, the marvelous work of grace and--ultimately--of the Holy Spirit. This esteem means accepting the other with his characteristics and his way of thinking and acting. Thus, despite many obstacles, harmony among what are often very different dispositions can be achieved.

"Help carry one another's burdens" means sympathetically bearing with the true or apparent defects of others, however irksome, and willingly accepting all the sacrifices required by living together with those whose mentality and temperament are not fully in accord with one's own way of seeing and judging.

5. In this regard, the Council recalls that charity is the fulfillment of the law (cf. Rom 13:10), the bond of perfection (cf. Col 3:14), the sign of having passed from death to life (cf. 1 Jn 3:14), the manifestation of Christ's coming (cf. Jn 14:21, 23) and the source of great apostolic power (cf. PC 15). We can apply to the common life the excellence of charity described by St. Paul in First Corinthians (13:1-13) and attribute to it what the Apostle calls the fruits of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, mildness and chastity" (Gal 5:22). The Council says that these are fruits of "the love of God which is poured into their hearts" (PC 15).

Jesus said: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst" (Mt 18:20). Christ is present wherever there is unity in charity, and Christ's presence is the source of deep joy, which is renewed each day until the definitive meeting with him."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli francesi

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française. En cette troisième semaine de l’Avent, je vous souhaite la joie chrétienne à laquelle saint Paul nous a invités dimanche dernier. Le Seigneur est proche: qu’il vous fasse chaque jour sentir le réconfort de sa présence!

Sur chacun de vous, mes chers amis, j’invoque de grand cœur la Bénédiction de Dieu.

Ai pellegrini inglesi

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the new students at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. As you prepare to serve God’s People, may you grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ, the perfect High Priest and the unique model of all priesthood in the Church. I also greet the Executive Committee of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Australia, Sri Lanka and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Ai fedeli tedeschi

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen kurzen Überlegungen heiße ich Euch, die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich willkommen. Mit meinen besten Wünschen für eine besinnliche Adventszeit erteile ich Euch und Euren Lieben in der Heimat von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo saludar ahora a los peregrinos de lengua española, venidos de España y de América Latina. De modo particular, saludo al grupo de deportistas españoles, así como a las Religiosas de María Inmaculada, a las cuales invito a saber encontrar en la propia vida de comunidad uno de los pilares de su consagración al Señor y de su servicio a los hermanos.

A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini portoghesi

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Ao saudar cordialmente os peregrinos e ouvintes de língua portuguesa, dou-lhes as boas-vindas e desejo cordialmente que todos vivam com alegria o tempo natalício, na prática das boas obras, especialmente nos seus lares, pelos caminhos da salvação de Cristo: muito Boas Festas e um Feliz Ano Novo, com a minha Bênção Apostólica!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Z Polski witam serdecznie biskupa Życińskiego z Tarnowa. Witam również pielgrzymów z Zakopanego: rodziny polskie, a w szczególności góralskie. Również witam kolejarzy z Przemyśla, grupę Polaków z Neapolu oraz wszystkich innych uczestników tej audiencji, pochodzących z kraju albo z emigracji.

Wszystkim też, ponieważ Adwent postępuje naprzód, życzę z całego serca łaski Bożego Narodzenia, tego duchowego dzielenia się opłatkiem, które przypomina nam, że podzielił się z nami sobą, swoim chlebem, chlebem anielskim, sam Chrystus.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Accolgo con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare le Juniores delle Figlie di San Paolo, ormai prossime alla professione perpetua, che emetteranno nei diversi Paesi di origine dell’Europa, dell’America Latina, dell’Africa e dell’Asia.

Carissime, il Vangelo di Cristo sia sempre la vostra gioia e la vostra forza; annunciatelo dovunque il Signore vi manderà, con la vita, con la parola e mediante il saggio utilizzo degli strumenti di comunicazione sociale.

Saluto inoltre i militari della Scuola di Artiglieria Controaerea, accompagnati dal nuovo Comandante, dal Cappellano e dai familiari. Il Signore Gesù, Principe della Pace, vi renda leali e coraggiosi operatori di pace.

Rivolgendomi poi ai membri della Fondazione “Cetacea”, incoraggio volentieri la loro opera di tutela della fauna marina e, più in generale, del mare e delle sue risorse.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli presenti

Rivolgo ora un pensiero cordiale ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli, ai quali addito la grande figura di San Giovanni della Croce, Sacerdote e Dottore della Chiesa, di cui oggi celebriamo la memoria liturgica. Con grande coerenza egli abbracciò per primo la riforma dell’Ordine carmelitano e la sostenne tra innumerevoli difficoltà e sofferenze.

Carissimi giovani, sull’esempio di questo grande maestro spirituale, testimoniate nell’esistenza quotidiana la vostra adesione alla volontà di Dio. Voi, malati e sofferenti, siate pronti ad accettare e a portare la vostra croce ogni giorno, imitando Cristo, nostra pace. E voi, sposi novelli, fate in modo che la vostra famiglia si ispiri sempre al mutuo e fedele amore e all’obbedienza fiduciosa verso il Signore.

Invitandovi tutti ad intensificare la preparazione spirituale al Natale, ormai prossimo, vi imparto di cuore la benedizione apostolica.

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